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World Environment Day 2023: #BeatPlasticPollution

On the 2023 occasion of the annual World Environment Day with theme ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’ the focus remains on how to reduce, reuse, recycle plastics. So much of the campaign is concerned with single-use plastics and the poor plastic waste management among communities of people.

Lifestyle and certain fast consumer products contribute largely to this plastic pollution problem as many people consume these products including soft drinks, snacks and other takeaway pack foods.

Many people are careless about how they dispose of the used packs and in cases when they are properly disposed, most of them are not recycled and the end up in open waste dumpsites. This makes it very easy for wind and rainwater to wash the single –use plastics into water bodies.

Of course, the after effect of these is the pollution of the marine environment with tonnes of plastics that end up hurting the ocean and marine life.

How plastic pollution affects marine life

Plastic destroys coral reefs

Plastic pollution speeds up the growth of pathogens in the ocean. The conclusion of a recent study highlights how coral reefs that come into contact with plastic are 89% more likely to contract diseases. This number becomes even more worrying when we consider that 60% of reefs are already seriously damaged and that half of the Great Barrier Reef has already been bleached to death. Coral reefs are essential for the survival of our oceans. They provide habitats and shelter for many marine organisms as well as adjusting carbon and nitrogen levels in the water and producing essential nutrients for marine food chains. These incredible living organisms also offer a service to all communities living on the coastline as it protects them from the damaging effects of wave action and tropical storms.

Plastic poisons our food chain

Plastic has been detected in almost all levels of the oceanic food chain. From the smallest of marine organisms, namely plankton, to the largest of predators, such as whales and sharks.

Microplastics enter our oceans in various different ways. As we all know, plastic material does not biodegrade but only breaks down into smaller microscopic particles which are then consumed by fish and enter the food chain.

Marine mammals, reptiles consume plastic/get entangled in plastic

There is evidence that marine mammals consume plastics that pollute the marine environment, thinking it is food; the microplastics are plastic fragments <<5mm) and they can be ingested by a wide range of organisms. Bloated from the plastic they have consumed, the mammals are left to starve and not be able to grow or even die from accumulation of toxins.

Besides consuming plastics, there are regular cases of plastic entanglement which leaves the marine mammals helpless, except in a few cases where divers/marine biologists come to their rescue.

It is estimated that up to 13 million metric tons of plastic ends up in the ocean each year—the equivalent of a rubbish or garbage truck load’s worth every minute.  Equally, at least one million seabirds die from plastic pollution (Simon Reddy, 2018).

How can we reduce that impact?

Reduce: Reuse: Recycle

Changing our consumption habits and pledging to cut our single use plastic to a minimum is the single best tool we have today to fight plastic pollution.

Beyond the dedicated day for ocean cleanup, it is important to create a sustainable strategy through campaigns to educate people on why they must not litter the marine environment, particularly with plastics.

Research findings have also shown that it is necessary to have robust engagements with target audiences; communities, people working within the maritime environment including seafarers and port workers to be environment aware and practice some habits that can help reduce one-off usage of plastic.

  1. Conserve: campaign to prevent the pollution of a local coastal environment or reduce use of plastics so that less of it ends up in our oceans.
  2. Protect: help protect an ecosystem or species by campaigning to have it protected by your government’s laws or international policies.
  3. Restore: take part in beach clean-ups, and involve others, including the youth.
  4. Recycle single-use plastic if you have to make use of them at all. It is important that such plastic materials are trashed properly and recycled. This is a good way to cut the number of plastic finding their way into the oceans.
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